WHATEVER HAPPENED to the WRATH of GOD
BY: JAN ANTONSSON
JANUARY 20, 2013
“Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Rom. 5:9)
As so many of them are, this one is for me and if anyone else gets anything from it, God be praised! Like many of you, I was brought up on hell fire and damnation sermons from the pulpit and stern warnings by the Sunday School teachers regarding what would happen if we sinned. Leaving nothing to chance, those sins were spelled out for us in 72 point type and BOLD face print.
Most of you are long past worrying about the wrath of God, so I had to be pressed a little by the Lord to write about my recent journey into wrath. I don’t read the Bible on a set schedule, like I used to do, but only when the Spirit urges me because then, it is alive and breathing life into me.
Since our youth group read and studied the Book of Acts more than any other book, I don’t read it much anymore, but the Spirit bade me read it and read it I did. It’s a wondrous book full of the light and power and glory of Almighty God poured forth on the little band of Apostles who had followed Jesus, watched as He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and broke the bread of life with the men who were constantly with Him during His earthly ministry. The Fire and Light of the Spirit was as thrilling to me this reading as it ever was.
Likewise, the conversion of Paul moved me to groaning as I read and lived with him the horrendous trials and tribulations he went through to preach “The Way” of the cross to the Gentiles.
From Acts, I moved on into Romans, because in this priceless letter, Paul draws back the veil of the Holy of Holies and ushers us into the mysteries of the Gospel, which he said were hidden from before the foundation of the world.
In his glorious discussion of grace, he gave the example of God telling Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom. 9:15) He concludes from that “It does not therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy….Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” (9:16, 18) I’ve always drawn such strength from Paul’s assurance that God is the prime actor, the subject of every sentence regarding the Gospel, and man’s part is not works, but faith freely given us by God’s grace. All of Romans rings with this glorious truth. Why then, did Paul bring up the wrath of God or more accurately the objects of His wrath?
Romans 9:22 exploded in my brain and for the first time in many years, I realized that there was a lump in my stomach when I considered God’s wrath, especially since Paul indicated that these objects of wrath were prepared for destruction, and the same potter from another lump of clay, made “objects of his mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory.” (Vs. 23)
I wondered if this is where Calvin came up with his horrific doctrine of the predestination of some to hell and the others to glory, no matter what they did, how they behaved, or what they believed. I knew the Lord was dealing with me, purging me of some old hidden pocket of fear that lurked within me and I prayed, as I always do, that He love me out of it, for only God’s unconditional love casts out fear. After years of Fundamentalist brainwashing, only God can remove it.
As the days rocked on, scripture began to come to me which calmed my nerves. Paul above all the New Testament writers, assures us that God is the friend and champion of sinners: “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:6,8) He had already made the case that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (3:9), going so far as to say “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (3:9-12) He echoed Isaiah’s declaration, “All we like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way” (Isa. 53:6).
But like Isaiah, Paul does not blister our souls with condemnation without applying the balm of grace to the wound. In Rom. 3:23, where he condemned all of us equally, saying we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, he doesn’t leave us there in despair, but assures us that we are “Justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (3:24)
As a child, I loved the Old Testament because of the mighty miracles that God performed through His servants the prophets, but I trembled in my boots at the descriptions of His wrath which He poured out on the pathetic children of Israel. They never learned that obedience is better than sacrifice, and that God meant what He said about the consequences of their disobedience.
No wonder I was so fearful about the wrath of God. Yet I know because I have felt His love and concern, His attention to the tiniest details of our lives, that we have a Father whom we can unreservedly love and trust. We have a deliverer from all that would try to separate us from that love, and we have a friend like no other, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
We probably all agree that the Bible has some terrible translation errors brought about by imperfect scholarship and political realities at the time. The King James Version came about because King James told the translators to tell the truth, but not to rock the boat. Failure to comply with that mandate could have had some VERY unpleasant consequences. Burning at the stake comes to mind.
It’s always good to read different translations, and I really appreciate the work Jonathan Mitchell has done translating the New Testament, showing the different nuances possible from the Greek. In Rom., 9:22, for instance, he gives the many meanings possible for our English word “wrath”: “inherent fervor, natural impulse, propensity and disposition (or: teeming passion; swelling desire; or: anger, wrath and indignation).” What a relief for us who cut our teeth on the King James Version of the Bible, because to us, the word “WRATH” conjures up hell fire and damnation, eternal punishment. Horrors!
Paul himself was a Jew “of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Phil. 3:5-6) Many of his readers were Jews who knew the history of God’s harsh dealings with disobedient Israel. Paul walked a fine line; it seems to me, between his exultation over God’s grace, his UNMERITED favor, and the difficulty of living in the flesh without sin.
Most of us living today ponder the terrible tragedies we see almost instantly in the world around us. What part has God’s wrath to do with those? Anything? Everything? Nothing? In Jesus’ day, the Rabbis had concluded that all illness was the result of sin. This is why when Jesus and the disciples encountered the man born blind, they asked Him if the man had sinned (in the womb?) or had his parents sinned. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” (John 9:1-3)
Still, I have pondered for many days now about the ravages of the flesh and the misery inflicted on so many by illness and natural or unnatural disasters. We dare not say, as some spiritual gurus still insist that now that we’ve accepted Christ, nothing bad can happen to us. We all have bad things happen to us or to someone we love, but what do they have to do with the wrath of God?
I turned to Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans, and was not disappointed. In his discussion of Romans 9:22, regarding the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy, he concludes, “In Time, we are vessels of wrath: in Eternity, we are not merely something more, but something utterly different; we are – vessels of mercy. Wonderfully saved beyond our whole visible existence, we are they who have been called of God. We are – and here occurs the absolute miracle – the Church of Jacob, the community of the elect…” (P. 360).
Barth’s reference to the Church of Jacob is rich because he maintains that all of us are members of the Church of Esau (the rejected one in time) and at the same time members of the Church of Jacob (the elect of God in eternity).
That also clarifies for me that wrath is coded somehow into our spiritual DNA. It began when Adam ate the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why did he eat it? He said because his wife told him to, but that was always a lame excuse. I think the reason he sinned is the same reason everyone and anyone sins today: it was, and is greed, ignorance, and hubris, thinking that knowing the difference between good and evil makes us like God.
Adam was the first one to incur the consequences of sowing and reaping, which may have been instituted by God in order to help us a little. In other words, if you trip over the same rock on your walking path every day, you learn to remove the rock or go around it. If you get a ticket for drinking and driving, you may learn (hopefully) not to do that anymore.
But even if we are quick learners, we will never be perfect on our own. Only GOD can make us like Himself, and He did that freely because He loved the world so much that He sent His only Son to rescue us from the hell hole of wrath and degradation that Adam plunged all mankind into.
So the answer to the question, “Whatever happened to the wrath of God?” is obvious to all of you and to me. It was covered by the blood of the Lamb, dissolved by His grace given to us without measure OR a price tag on it, and swallowed up by the unconditional love of our Father.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom. 5:8-10) Redeemed by His death, we are saved by His life! Hallelujah!
Father, thank You for all Your marvelous gifts to us, and most of all, for Christ living His life in us and through us. We’re eternally grateful that You have provided the antidote, the anti venom for the serpent’s poisonous words, and are delivering all of us back to Yourself, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we the church, the body of Christ may be holy and without blemish. What a wonderful Abba You are. We, the redeemed of the Lord will come singing unto Zion; everlasting joy shall be upon our heads, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Selah and Amen.